U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Seattle’s Best Now Part of Final Four at Jupiter Hills
May 22, 2018 | Tequesta, Fla.
By Jeff Babineau
For Kyle Cornett and Patrick Sato, two young 20-something golfers barely out of college in Seattle, nothing has been gained without considerable effort at the 4th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Whatever ground they’ve covered, be it the long miles to cross the country or simply the competition itself, they've earned every inch of it.
You want challenging? Try needing to birdie two of your last three holes in stroke play just to get into a 7-for-6 playoff for match play, which they survived. What followed were 19-hole match victories over mid-amateur heavyweights Scott Harvey and Todd Mitchell on Monday and Pat Collogan and Craig Poet, two USGA-championship neophytes from Ponca City, Okla., on Tuesday morning.
Which brings us to Tuesday afternoon’s quarterfinals or the portion of the championship that resembles an ironman segment (potentially, four matches over two days). For Sato and Cornett, going “only” 18 holes had to feel like a breeze, as they pulled off a 1-up victory that ran past dinnertime over Pat Christovich and Garrett Rank, U.S. Amateur Four-Ball semifinalists in each of the last two years.
Sato, 22, and Cornett, 23, each had birdie putts on the final hole, a 427-yard closer that climbs dramatically to a well-protected green. Rank was out of the hole after his tee ball unluckily settled a foot up in a twin palm. Christovich was in the fairway, but tugged his approach. He had the flagstick removed for his 30-foot pitch, and his ball landed softly and gently tracked left to right toward the hole, only to catch the right edge and stay out as he went to his knees. It was that kind of day.
“I thought he made that,” Sato said. Seeing that their morning Round-of-16 opponents had run in a 30-footer on the 18th green, why wouldn’t they be bound for bonus holes once again?
Once Sato lagged his first putt to the front edge of the hole to secure par, they had secured victory, too, turning around what had been a 2-down deficit through eight holes. Handshakes ensued. It’s seemingly never easy for these two, but for once this week, the two former Redhawk teammates from Seattle University weren’t in line to collect overtime.
Wednesday morning they’ll face Chip Brooke and Marc Dull, two men from the caddie yard and, like Christovich and Rank, returning semifinalists, for the right to play in the 18-hole championship match on Wednesday afternoon. This week has been a complete whirlwind for the Seattle duo, who believed they could contend if they played well, but didn’t really plan that far ahead.
So they’ve boiled things down to the very basics.
“You win, and you get to play another round at Jupiter Hills,” said Cornett, who by virtue of being a semifinalist has earned an exemption into next year’s Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort along the southwest Oregon coast. “That’s it. We’re just trying to keep it one match at a time.”
Cornett had a hot morning, but had trouble getting any birdies to fall in the afternoon match. In fact, all four players appeared to be low on steam, which happens after four intense competition days. When Cornett rifled a beautiful 4-iron down the hill to about 10 feet at the 233-yard 14th hole, then knocked in the putt, it was the first birdie of the match.
“This morning, I made like six birdies, and then this afternoon, I’m walking to the green at 14 and I don’t have a single one,” Cornett said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘We’d better get going. We’re in a pillow fight with these guys.’”
Rank wouldn’t seem a typical candidate for any sort of a pillow fight. He is 30 years old and just completed his second season as an NHL referee, and he is built much like the hockey players he officiates, rugged and sturdy, like a man who wouldn’t hesitate to dig hard in the corners. Rank is a three-time Canadian Mid-Amateur champion who lost in a playoff last summer for a fourth. The 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up also is a cancer survivor who has made a cut in the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open.
Christovich, 39, a real estate broker, is a mid-am giant in New Orleans. This was somewhat lost on their opponents, who had no clue about their opponent’s pedigree until the sixth tee, when they were informed that Rank and Christovich had made it to the semis of this championship in each of the last two years.
But Tuesday afternoon, Rank and Christovich, surprisingly, were more rank and file. The two managed only one birdie between them, that coming from Rank at the par-4 16th, and he promptly got topped by Cornett, who ran in a 15-footer. The mid-am team also made a couple of costly bogeys, one on the par-3 ninth when they were 2 up and had the tee, but their Waterloo came when both posted a pair of 5s at the par-4 17th to slip to 1 down.
“We’ve been close in this a couple times,” said Rank, who will take part in U.S. Open sectional qualifying on June 4 in Roswell, Ga., for a chance to compete at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. “But quite frankly, we just didn’t play well enough to win this afternoon’s match.”
To their credit, the Seattle duo was steady if not spectacular, making few mistakes after losing the seventh and eighth holes to pars. Cornett, who won the Seattle Amateur last summer (with a chip-in eagle on the third playoff off hole, of course) is tall and thin, built like a 1-iron. Sato is shorter, more sturdily built, and hits low roping draws off the tee. They played together on the golf team at Seattle University, a smallish school (7,200 undergrads) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of the city that competes in the Western Athletic Conference, and hung out pretty closely for four years.
“I think we actually played together in junior golf once, but we never talked,” Sato said.
Why is it the two get along so famously, like ham and eggs? For one, they’re both pretty low maintenance, rolling through life with that slow, laid-back Pacific Northwest vibe. They're in no hurry. Each one is working at a golf facility post-graduation, and both plan to play professionally. Cornett loves the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball so much he may hold off on turning pro until next June, so they can play in their home region at Bandon Dunes.
“We both love golf, love sports, love the competition,” Sato said. “And we both don’t like school. So there are a lot of similarities.”
And know this about these two: When they step up to that first hole on the Hills Course with dew on the ground Wednesday morning, nobody in the field will know it better. They’ve been in so many playoffs that they’ve spent more time on that hole than George Fazio, the original architect.
“Definitely,” Cornett said, smiling, “that hole, we know.”
Jeff Babineau is an award-winning Florida-based writer.